Determining Wuthering Heights
Ideology, Intertexts, Tradition
The target audience of the book would be members of the academic community interested in Victorian literature in general (researchers, scholars…) and in Wuthering Heights in particular. However, since Wuthering Heights has become a classic novel which is today read and discussed in universities around the world, the subject may also appeal to students who have to take a course on Victorian Literature and/or on the Brontës.
Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- 1 An Overview of Wuthering Heights’ Critical Reception: Problems and Omissions
- 2 Wuthering Heights: “The Housekeeper’s Tale”
- 3 Wuthering Heights and Kleist’s Novellen: Rousseauian Nature, Implosive Communities and the Performative Subversion of the Law
- 4 Wuthering Heights: A Gothic Novel
- 5 Wuthering Heights: An Epic Poem
- 6 Wuthering Heights: A Social Novel
- 7 Wuthering Heights: A Bildungsroman
- 8 Conclusions
- Afterword by Julián Jiménez Heffernan
This book has been written over a number of years, and during this journey I have received much aid and assistance. First of all, I am especially grateful to Professor Julián Jiménez Heffernan for his close, continuous involvement in the writing of this book, his essential encouragement, and his kindness in accepting to write the afterword. I owe him a continuing debt of gratitude.
An abridged version of Chapter 3 has been previously published in Miscelánea: A Journal of English and American Studies. I should like to thank the editors of this journal for granting permission to incorporate this material into a larger argument: “Wuthering Heights and Kleist’s Novellen: Rousseaunian Nature, Implosive Communities and the Performative Subversion of the Law,” Miscelánea: A Journal of English and American Studies, vol. 62, 2020, pp. 147–165.
I would also like to thank my editors at Peter Lang Publishing, Dr. Meagan Simpson and Abdur Rawoof, for believing in this book and for assisting me in the publishing process.
“Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside of books. Now I realized that non infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me.”
(Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose 286)
Recent criticism on Emily Brontë and her novel has tried to correct the deep-rooted belief that Emily Bronte was a literary “genius” isolated in the moors of Haworth. Twenty-first century scholarship on Wuthering Heights and the Brontës has built on previous critical currents (psychoanalysis, Marxism, feminism, post-colonialism) and has given due attention to the broader, social, historical and cultural factors that had been disregarded by earlier critics. Indeed, an overview of recent Brontë scholarship indicates that issues of class, gender and race are still discussed, reinvigorated with a detailed attention to historical/cultural context and—often but not always—directed by close textual analysis. Two important critical shifts have lately cropped up: an increasing sociological attention to cultural studies on the one hand and an emphasis on interdisciplinarity on the other. Hence, discussions of (and disagreements about) Wuthering Heights and its author abound. And yet, for all these critical developments, the most quoted critical ←1 | 2→assessment of Wuthering Heights remains F.R. Leavis’s statement that Wuthering Heights “is a kind of sport” (27) and it would be hard to prove that scholars who quote Leavis’s diagnostic blast are not in full agreement with him. Briefly put, the dominantly sociological critical consensus on the novel persists in construing it as an anomaly. In opposition to these prevailing critical currents of the twenty-first century, which tend to overlook the literary dimension that overdetermines the novel, I engage with literary and ideological meaning-construction devices in Wuthering Heights, and I do so by trying to take very carefully into account the literary context of the period.
Wuthering Heights is indeed an anomalous text if we look at it having in mind the more or less perfectly designed novels of the late Victorian period but—and this is my central claim—Emily Brontë’s novel is not such an anomalous text if we look at it having in mind some eighteenth and nineteenth-century texts, especially narratives. The singularity of Wuthering Heights can only be explained (and resolved) if the novel is placed in comparison with those texts that, although unwittingly contributing to the stabilization of the novel in the Victorian literary field, did not yet possess the near-teleological drive and normative pedigree this form would gradually acquire in the work of George Eliot, Anthony Trollope and Thomas Hardy. Recent criticism on Wuthering Heights attempts to postulate the existence of a determinate and retrievable meaning of Wuthering Heights by paying attention to biographical, historical, cultural, and thematic contexts or by providing Marxist, feminist or postcolonial readings of the text. Although they offer illuminating and groundbreaking readings of some dimensions of Wuthering Heights, these unilateral readings tend to flatten and instrumentalize the text by neglecting the intertextual mediations that lurk around it. My chief contribution, on this plane, is to postulate a determinate intertextual meaning of Wuthering Heights and to enrich its heterogeneity by examining its dialogic relation with previous, contemporary and subsequent texts. My emphasis on the determinate nature of narrative meaning seeks to resist the lure of indeterminacy that very often vitiates deconstructive approaches to Victorian fiction, including Wuthering Heights. In other words, I have tried to connect form with ideology and to exhibit the wide range of ideological messages that result from different intertextual confrontations. In general, I have tried to let intertextual influence speak for itself, through the texts, rather than impose a critical theory on the novel. As Margaret Anne Doody reminds us, “[i]n every novel there are threads pulling this was, pulling that way, connecting, tying in, and running back” (300).
Wuthering Heights stands, in my reading, as an emblem of the porosity of the blurry category “novel.” Brontë’s novel—like the novel itself—arouse out of ←2 | 3→a series of “dialectical engagements” (McKeon xix) with other texts and these dialectical engagements bring into the open the ideological structure behind the text. In my readings of Brontë’s novel, I have shown that Wuthering Heights is a sediment-rich text which contains many layers of heterogeneous strata: Pamela, “Der Findling,” The Monk, The Bride of Lammermoor, Manfred, Lamia, Shirley, Jane Eyre, Barry Lyndon, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby … In this book, I have tried to do what most critics have never (consciously) attempted: to postulate a determinate intertextual meaning for Wuthering Heights by placing it in dialogic relationship with previous novels, novellas and poems in order to confirm that Emily Brontë’s novel is not so sui generis, certainly not a sport. So my aim is to demonstrate how the meaning of Wuthering Heights is built up in intertextual participation, influence and struggle.
My methodology consists in making an intertextual confrontation between Wuthering Heights and other pre-Victorian, Victorian and Romantic texts. Therefore, in each chapter, I have put Wuthering Heights in dialogue with a chosen intertext. I would like to emphasize that I have chosen texts which either hold an important place in the often neglected pre-history of Victorian fiction: Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, or, Virtue Rewarded (1740), Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796), Lord Byron’s poem, Manfred (1817)—or put forward an embryonic and tentative version of the novel in the early Victorian field: Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) and Shirley (1849), William Thackeray’s Barry Lyndon (1844), Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist (1839), Nicholas Nickleby (1839), David Copperfield (1850), and Great Expectations (1861). These texts are not randomly chosen. They were powerful inscriptions within the literary field that started to consolidate in the first half of the nineteenth century after the crumbling of a more normatively determined Neoclassical literary field. Let me point out that, although two of these novels (David Copperfield and Great Expectations) were published after Wuthering Heights and, therefore, could have zero influence on that novel, they were strong inscriptions in the literary field, determining both its contemporary layout and the future—eventually Victorian—lines of its configuration. Besides, in hindsight, these contemporary and posterior texts afford valuable insights into Wuthering Heights since they all came out of what is, in a relevant sense, the same intellectual milieu. Apart from these intertexts, I have also compared Wuthering Heights with some of Heinrich von Kleist’s Novellen, especially “Der Findling,” [“The Foundling”]. I think that the uncanny intertextual similarities that they share and the fact that two of Kleist’s Novellen had been translated into English in Brontë’s time justify this inclusion.
←3 | 4→The organization of the chapters is essentially chronological; the book starts with Richardson, one of the forerunners of the domestic novel, and finishes with Charles Dickens, who brought it to “sentimental” perfection. However, the momentum of the argument is generated by intertextual confrontations which bring to the fore ideological agendas that have not been sufficiently highlighted by critics. Furthermore, I would like to stress that the novelty of my project lies in the fact that there has never been such an explicit, systematic and comprehensive attempt to place Wuthering Heights within a literary, chiefly narrative, tradition. What justifies my return to Samuel Richardson, Matthew Lewis, Heinrich von Kleist, Byron, Charlotte Brontë, William Thackeray and Charles Dickens here is the fact that all literature is a patchwork of themes which are already present in the “origins” which in turn are not original themselves. I am affirming the inevitability and rightfulness of the historical process by which a novel that has always been considered an anomaly in the history of English literature is asserting its position in the literary tradition.
How This Book Engages Scholarly Debates
I think it is important to explain how this book engages scholarly debates about interpretation and post-critique in order to account for my formal and intertextual reading of Wuthering Heights. As Roland Barthes writes, “all criticism must include in its discourse an implicit reflection on itself” since every criticism “is a criticism of the work and a criticism of itself” (Barthes, “What is Criticism?” 256). A range of critics in recent years have contested the all-pervading tendency to historicize Victorian literature and have urged a new attention to form and formalism. What emerges is a new formalism that reacts against the influential model of symptomatic reading—championed by post-structuralist critics, especially of a psychoanalytic and Marxist persuasion—which saw the critic as a detective whose main task is to unmask repressed meanings, a reading practice where “one remains blind to the text and concentrates on the murky and illusory depths of the work” (Strier 210).
New formalism has redefined the concept of form, which is much broader than in its traditional usage in literary theory since it is not necessarily associated to linguistic tropes. Thus, for Caroline Levine, form means “all shapes and configurations, all ordering principles, all patterns of repetition and difference” (3) and narrative is “the form that best captures the experience of colliding forms” (19). Levine contests the idea that aesthetic form is an effect of the political implications ←4 | 5→that it mimics, subverts or tries to resolve. She chooses a nineteenth-century classic like Jane Eyre to prove that a novel cannot be read as a formal treatment of some pre-existing social reality, such as imperialism or class conflicts, but as a site where different forms—or hierarchies—“can overlap and clash to surprisingly productive and emancipatory effect, producing political opportunities as well as tragic endings” (107). For this scholar, forms are hierarchical and they take the shape of simple binaries: higher/lower, male/female, centre/periphery, First World/Third World. For Levine, social hierarchies and institutions can themselves be understood as forms. The result is a cultural-political arena in which literary forms and social institutions operate on a common plane (Levine, “Strategic Formalism” 626). Though apparently consonant with deconstructive practice—Levine’s formalism dismisses the specificity and singularity of linguistic and literary forms, and it downplays, or simply disregards, the pervasiveness of intertextual determinism: does not Rochester’s brooding voice owes something to Manfred? Are not Rochester’s dubious schemes to gain Jane Eyre like those of Mr. B? Is not Jane Eyre an updated Pamela who, like Richardson’s heroine, climbs the social ladder? Is this playfield of literary intertextual cross-fertilization to be dismissed or made commensurate to other putative fields of non-linguistic and non-literary formal influence?
Rita Felski has also contributed to the debate on the endless crisis of criticism. Like Caroline Levine, Felski highlights the exhaustion of what she calls, following Paul Ricoeur, “the hermeneutics of suspicion.” What suspicion means as an interpretative approach is that the literary text hides some repressed meaning and that the critic’s task is to excavate, interrogate and dissect the surface of the text in search of nonobvious or latent meanings. This approach encourages the critic to distrust the text since interpretation depends on the assumption that all texts are always hiding something. Suspicious reading implies then “guardedness rather than openness, aggression rather than submission, irony rather than reverence, exposure rather than tact” (21). Instead of approaching the text with a shield, Felski sketches out an alternative model of what she calls “postcritical reading.” She encourages critics to become more receptive to “the multifarious and many-shaded moods of texts” (12), that is, to allow ourselves “to be marked, struck, impressed by what we read” (12). According to Felski, this moment of submission to a text allows us “to try out other selves, explore fictional models, slip free, for an instant, of well-worn habits of thought” (177). Felski’s approach is clearly influenced by Susan Sontag’s proposal in “Against Interpretation” (1966) which also favours the reader’s affective response or “affective engagement” to the text (Felski 177), opting for the experience of reading literature in its “pure, untranslatable, sensuous immediacy” (Sontag 14), what Sontag called an “erotics of art” (14).
←5 | 6→Felski’s immediate approach to the text—although innovative and provocative—seems to neglect one of the most influential maxims of poststructuralism: the belief in the non-referential nature of linguistic signs. As Barthes has argued, all texts produce their meaning out of their relation to literary and cultural systems, rather than out of any direct representation of the physical world. Thus, the literary text does not contain meaning; it is a site in which a number of relations merge and combine (Allen 12). Therefore, if the sign is never pure or fully meaningful and if the function of signs is not to reflect inward experiences or objects in the real world, the words in a literary text can never “reach, reorient, and even reconfigure their readers” (Felski 177). It is the reader, moving outward from the literary text into the relations it possesses with other literary or cultural works, who can find or construct meaning. If words can only be explained through other words, a literary text can only generate meaning through its mediation with other texts. “Texts engender texts,” De Man says, “as a result of their necessarily aberrant semantic structure; hence the fact that they consist of a series of repetitive reversals …” (162).
Stephen Best and Sharon Marcus have also taken part in the ongoing dispute about the limits of critique. In their article, “Surface Reading: An Introduction,” Best and Marcus offer a sceptical appraisal of symptomatic reading and advocate for a fresh attention to the surfaces of texts. They oppose “surface reading” to symptomatic reading and define surface as that what is “evident, perceptible, apprehensible in texts; what is neither hidden nor hiding; what, in the geometrical sense, has length and breadth but no thickness, and therefore covers no depth” (9). A surface, they argue, is what can be looked at rather than what we must learn to see through (9). Best and Marcus want to reclaim “the accent on immersion in texts” without becoming suspicious or paranoid about their latent ideologies. They believe that a willing submission to the text prevents its politicization and constitutes “the best way to say anything accurate and true about them” (16). Therefore, whereas a symptomatic reading tries to plumb hidden depths in the text, a surface reading strives to produce a truthful account of surfaces (18). Surface reading, they contend, is the best way to overcome the impasses created by “an excessive emphasis on ideological demystification” (18). This defence of surface reading amounts, in my opinion, to an attempt to revitalize the illusion of aesthetic-referential immediacy, the bête noir of deconstructionist critics like Paul de Man.
In her book, Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England (2007), Sharon Marcus chooses “just reading,” a variant of surface reading, to account “for what is in the text without construing presence as absence ←6 | 7→or affirmation as negation” (75). Marcus criticizes how symptomatic readings of Victorian novels assume that female friendship has been repressed by marriage plots and can only be recuperated through symptomatic reading, which tries to plumb hidden depths (3); she regrets how symptomatic readings have paradoxically rendered female friendship invisible. Conversely, just reading shows how female friendships are crucial on novels with marriage plots, serving as “a transmission mechanism that kept narrative energies on track” (3). Like Rita Felski, Best and Marcus also opt for an immediate approach to the literary text, neglecting the fact that the surface of texts lacks independent meaning and that meaning emerges from the relation between a text and all the other texts to which it refers and relates, moving out from the independent text into a web of intertexts (Allen 1).
To recapitulate, what these critics have in common is a strong opposition to symptomatic reading and an enthusiastic defence of surface reading, which tends to encourage an immediate approach to the literary text. Thus, Caroline Levine’s new formalism prioritizes social and institutional formations over linguistic, textual and narrative forms. Hence, her approach dismisses the specificity and singularity of linguistic and literary forms while it downplays the intertextual relations that mediate and over-determine a literary work. Rita Felski’s, Stephen Best’s and Sharon Marcus’s approaches run to a certain degree along parallel tracks; they attempt to revitalize the illusion of aesthetic-referential immediacy, favouring the reader’s affective response to the text and overlooking the fact that the surface of texts lacks independent meaning. These critics advocate for an affective reading of literary texts which omits the influence of textual mediation and denies the importance and efficacy of symptomatic reading; they undermine the textual determination of the context of ideology. My reading of Wuthering Heights, however, is not guided by this naïve concept of textual sympathy. In contrast, I argue that textual determination is essential for digging down the ideology of the text.
“There is no such thing as an innocent reading.” Thus, I must say “what reading [I am] guilty of” (Althusser and Balibar 16). Since I have tried to keep theory as much as possible in the background, I will say a few words here about this book’s theoretical underpinnings. This book takes up the call of the V21 contributors and detaches itself from the current productive vogue for sociological approaches to narrative texts which has tended towards the “fetishization of the archival” (“Manifesto of the V21 Collective”) and has contributed to obscure the focus on anomalous intertextual relations that characterized the work of deconstructive hermeneutics. Like the V21 contributors, I do think that we “must ←7 | 8→seek new justifications for our work” and that we need to reconsider “how forms persist across artificially designated historical periods, while recentering formal analysis as the province of literary critical knowing” (“Manifesto of the V21 Collective”). The field of nineteenth-century English literature in general—and of the Brontës’ studies in particular—has moved in the direction of constant openness to historical and cultural contexts, without paying sufficient attention to the ways that meaning is conditioned and enabled by the possibilities of form. Certainly, all areas of literary study have tended towards cultural studies. In Richard Strier’s words, “formalism has become a dirty word, but we can’t do without it.”1
I take my cue in part from Fredric Jameson and I propose a symptomatic and intertextual reading of Wuthering Heights; a reading which seeks to track and disclose “du texte” in Emily Brontë, “to expose layers and traces of textuality” (Jameson, The Ideologies 27). This formalist and intertextual critical position has been, however, reviled by new-formalists since it detaches itself from all the readings that come under the rubric of “surface reading.” Thus, my reading of Emily Brontë’s novel does not fall prey to gullible notions like immediate meaning or the reader’s “affective engagement” to the literary text; it prioritizes linguistic, textual and narrative forms over any other social or institutional formation and it brings to the fore the ideological fabric that lies behind the surface, making up the novel’s intertextual core. In correlating form with ideology, I endorse Jameson’s view that formal processes carry “ideological messages of their own, distinct from the ostensible or manifest content of the works” (Jameson, The Political 84).
I think it necessary to highlight that I use the term intertextuality in a non-restrictive understanding of the concept, one which envisages the textual as essentially contributing to the framing of the author’s unconscious and ideology, let alone the literary text’s unconscious and ideology. This is to say that the ideological unconscious of an author is already a site of intertextuality and that the literary work is a product of this ideological unconscious (Lucien Goldmann), even as this work develops an ideological unconscious of its own (Pierre Macherey). The text would necessarily betray the original intertextual consistency.
Of all possible over-determining forces shaping the production of Wuthering Heights, I think that the most pressing is the literary context. This is, I am aware, a controversially unfashionable assumption. I have thus prioritized the literary context over any other biographical, historical or cultural context, putting Wuthering Heights in direct communication with other literary texts that I consider ideologically determinant. My emphasis on the determined and determinate nature of narrative meaning encourages attention to mediation and seeks to avoid the lure of immediacy which has been vastly enhanced by the stigma of ←8 | 9→exceptionality that accompanies the novel. Thus, my symptomatic reading of Wuthering Heights departs from current critical tendencies—postcritical reading, just reading and all the different subtypes of surface reading—which seem to forget that the object of criticism is not “the world” but a discourse and that “criticism is discourse upon discourse” (Barthes, “What is Criticism?” 258). Thus, in the present book, I have confronted the different literary intertexts that mediate, determine and over-determine Emily Brontë’s text, turning it less into a thing immediately to be read through than into an object mediately to be read into and across. I embark on a running detour, a set of trips back and forth to Wuthering Heights. I reach the text through its confirming intertexts.
My symptomatic and post-structuralist reading of Wuthering Heights depends much on dialectical critique, which has been recently revitalized by critics such as Jameson, Zizek and Ruda. I think that the dialectical method, which revitalizes the workings of conceptual negativity, is alone capable of dealing with notions of ideology, false consciousness, repression and connotation itself (Jameson, The Ideologies 27). In Hegelian dialectic, the notion of totality “is not an ideal of an organic Whole but a critical notion” (Zizek et al. 44); it is “the Whole plus its symptoms, unintended consequences that betray its untruth” (44). A dialectical method can therefore best disclose the historical moment when the generic coalescence of the English novel as a textual practice and a generic configuration can be seen both in its indivisibility from other parts and in its embryonic coherence as a whole in itself (McKeon xx). Hence, I conceive Wuthering Heights “as a whole whose parts have lost their former continuity as components of other things or as other wholes in themselves” (McKeon xx). These “other things” and “other wholes” I take to be, quite simply, other novels, whose strong inscribing force in the generic continuum of narrative occurrences lends them a singular power to determine subsequent occurrences. I make a dialectical effort and try to account for the novel’s symptoms, antagonisms and inconsistencies in order to obtain a sound picture of its primary “ideology effect” (Althusser 191). The main object of study here would be what the Russian Formalists called “motivation,” that is to say, “what has to be pressed into service to make a given detail pass unquestioned by the reader, or, to use what will presently become an ideologically charged term, to make it seem ‘natural’ to him” (Jameson, The Ideologies 32).
My reading of Wuthering Heights demonstrates that there is indeed “a positivity with dialectical intensity” (Jameson, Valences 39) and that the “elaborate overtracings” that we find in the novel “are not to be dismissed as archival aestheticism or mere literary allusion” (Jameson, Valences 39) but bring to the fore the diffuse, disseminated and conflictual copresence of the different ideological ←9 | 10→trends making up the novel’s intertextual core. All the different literary texts that I have chosen as intertexts are indeed superimposed in the novel “by a constant process of doubling and surcharge” (Jameson, Valences 40) in which the hero of Nicholas Nickleby, for example, is also, at the same time, the villain of Wuthering Heights, and Heathcliff is called upon to assume both roles simultaneously.
Thus, my methodology consists in putting forward an intertextual confrontation between Wuthering Heights and other pre-Victorian, Victorian and Romantic texts in order to track and uncover the novel’s “constitutive antagonism” (Zizek et al. 46). The result of this intertextual comparison shows how Wuthering Heights reflects, subverts and creates ideology at a basically (infrastructurally) narrative level. This volume addresses a gap in existing scholarship about Wuthering Heights—and about Victorian literature in general—by arguing that the literary context provides the initial context for understanding Brontë’s novel. In his thorough and illuminating description of structuralism, Eagleton defines literature as “an enclosed ecological recycling of texts” (92) and I think that the same can be said of Wuthering Heights. Although nineteenth-century scholars are dismissive of conceptions of literary invention based on tradition, influence, imitation and intertextuality, there is a number of important critics who have been strong advocates of intertextuality and who have used intertextual methodologies to move the field forward based on that methodology.
In his edifying and comprehensive book, Intertextuality (2006), Graham Allen traces a coherent history of the term and explains how it is used in various theoretical contexts, from its genesis in Kristeva’s adaptation of Saussaure’s and Bakhtin’s theories, through Barthes’ post-structuralist articulation and Genette’s and Riffaterre’s structuralist articulation, on to feminist and postcolonial variations of the term, and finally to its adaptation to the non-literary arts and the current technological era (Allen 6). In Allen’s own words, the act of reading “plunges us into a network of textual relations” (Allen 1). Thus, in order to interpret a literary text, and to discover its meaning, one should trace its relation with other texts: “Meaning becomes something which exists between a text and all the other texts to which it refers and relates, moving out from the independent text into a network of textual relations. The text becomes the intertext” (Allen 1).
Literary theory—and the notion of intertextuality—originates from the birth of modern linguistics, which itself emerged in the work of Ferdinand de Saussure. For Saussure, the linguistic sign has not an inherent meaning of its own: “Sign exists within a system and produce meaning through their similarity to and difference from other signs” (Allen 10). The linguistic sign then is a non-unitary, non-stable, relational unit which establishes relationships of similarity ←10 | 11→and difference with other linguistic signs, constituting the synchronic system of language. The same happens with the literary signs. If the literary tradition is itself a synchronic system, the literary author works with at least two systems, those of language in general and those of the literary system in particular:
Such a point reinforces Saussure’s stress on the non-referential nature of signs, since in reading literature we become intensely aware that the signs deployed in any particular text have their reference not to objects in the world but to the literary system out of which the text is produced. (Allen 11)
Therefore, the literary work is no longer perceived as a provider of meaning but as a space in which a number of relations merge (Allen 12).
In his influential work of literary criticism, Anatomy of Criticism (1957), Northrop Frye put into practice a structuralist reading of literary texts and presented an idea of literature as “containing life and reality in a system of verbal relationships” (122) that still retains much value. By that same logic, the critic can no longer conceive literature “as a tiny palace of art looking out upon an inconceivably gigantic ‘life’ ” (122). “Life” has become “the seed-plot of literature, a vast mass of potential literary forms, only a few of which will grow up into the greater world of the literary universe” (122). Hence, for Frye, literary texts do not produce meaning out of a direct representation of the external world. Rather, meaning can only be generated through the intertextual mediation of different texts.
The term intertextuality was coined by Julia Kristeva in her work of the late 1960s, in which Kristeva combined Saussurean and Bakhtinian theories of language and literature to produce the first articulation of intertextual theory. In Bakhtin’s vision of language, the word only becomes one’s own through an act of “appropriation,” which implies that the word is never one’s own since it is “always permeated with traces of other words, other uses” (Allen 28). Bakthin expresses this idea through the concept of heteroglossia—which stands behind Kristeva’s concept of intertextuality—and which can be defined as “language ability to contain within it many voices, one’s own and other voices” (Allen 29).
According to Kristeva, literary authors do not produce a text from scratch, but rather compile it from previous texts, a text is then “a permutation of texts, an intertextuality in the space of a given text,” in which “several utterances, taken from other texts, intersect and neutralize one another” (Kristeva 36). What characterizes Kristeva’s view of intertextuality is her view of the literary text as a combination of several textual surfaces, that is, as a dialogue between several ←11 | 12→writings: that of the writer, the addressee, and the contemporary or earlier cultural context (Kristeva 65). Kristeva’s version of intertextuality stands in relation to Hegelian dialectics since it subverts reason and defies the belief in categorical meaning, and therefore disrupts all ideas of the rational and the undisputable (Allen 45–46).
In a history of intertextuality, Kristeva’s French colleague, Roland Barthes, remains crucial in developing the theory. What Barthes means by the term “text,” and thus “intertextuality” is perfectly summarized in his famous essay, “The Death of the Author” (1968):
[A text is] woven entirely with citations, references, echoes, cultural languages (what language is not?) antecedent or contemporary, which cut across it through and through in a vast stereophony. The intertextual in which every text is held, it itself being the text-between of another text, is not to be confused with some origin of the text: to try to find the “sources,” the “influences” of a work, is to fall in with the myth of filiation; the citations which go to make up a text are anonymous, untraceable, and yet already read: they are quotations without inverted commas. (160)
In this essay, Barthes extensively developed intertextual theory, challenging the figure of the author as an unquestionable or natural authority. As he puts it: “The explanation of a work is always sought in the man or woman who produced it, as if it were always in the end, through the more or less transparent allegory of the fiction, the voice of a single person, the author ‘confiding’ in us” (“The Death of the Author” 143). The origin of a literary text is not the consciousness of an author but a plurality of voices, words, utterances and texts. Thus, if we were able to look inside the head of an author, we would not discover intended meaning, but what he calls the “alreadyread” or the “already-written” (qtd. in Allen 73). Barthes styles the mother author as a “modern scriptor” who does not produce unified meaning but compiles the already written and read into “a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash” (Barthes, “The Death of the Author” 146). The text becomes “a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture” (Barthes, “The Death of the Author” 146). Intertextuality for Bathes—as for Derrida—means that “nothing exists outside the text” (Barthes, S/Z 6). In other words, to trace the meaning of a text, therefore, we must put it in relation to other texts. Meaning thus originates from language viewed intertextually (Allen 74). Thus, immediate approaches which advocate for the reader’s affective response to the text become irrelevant and questionable.
- XIV, 366
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- New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. XIV, 366 pp.